Lawmakers call for hiatus on new US net pen farms as Cooke escape backlash grows

Published on
August 31, 2017

Cooke Aquaculture is facing yet more backlash due to a growing public uproar over the escape of thousands of non-native Atlantic salmon from its Cypress Island, Washington farm on 19 August. 

Cooke sent a letter to Clallam County government officials, asking the county to hold off on a 7 September permit hearing on its request to build a USD 9 million (EUR 7.6 million) net pen facility at the Port of Angeles, Washington. The letter was sent after Washington Governor Jay Inslee ordered the suspension of permits for new Atlantic salmon net pens in the state.

“In light of the recent unfortunate event that occurred at our Cypress Island Site 2 facility, we would like to request that the upcoming hearing for the PA-East facility be postponed at this time to allow us to focus on the emergency response effort and for us to work with you to evaluate next steps with respect to our permit applications,” Cooke said.

While Cooke’s planned Port Angeles facility may be in jeopardy, the company “won’t speculate on future impacts,” Cooke Spokesman Chuck Brown told SeafoodSource. “Our focus remains on the damaged Cypress site and the recovery effort.”

Meanwhile, The Wild Fish Conservancy Northwest is circulating a petition opposing the proposed Port Angeles facility.

The fallout from the incident could eventually affect all current and future net pen farming operations in the United States, after several U.S. lawmakers have called for the federal government to stop all permitting for new net pens or expansions to existing pens nationwide.

U.S. Senators Maria Cantwell (D-Washington) and Patty Murray (D-Washington), along with several state legislators, urged the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers “to take quick and decisive action to address the impacts of hundreds of thousands of escaped farmed Atlantic salmon in Washington state waters,” the legislators said in a statement.

The letter also called on the Army Corps to work to stop all permitting for new net pens or expansions to existing pens, as well as prioritize requests to update or maintain existing pens.

NOAA and the Army Corps should conduct a review of the “integrity and operation of all currently operating net pen structures to address concerns of further accidents at existing facilities,” the letter said.

“Pacific salmon are central to our economy, our culture, and our environment in the Pacific Northwest, and are a critical part of marine and estuarine ecosystems in Washington state,” the legislators wrote. “The released Atlantic salmon pose a threat to wild Pacific salmon, including multiple endangered and threatened stocks in the region.”

Since the salmon escape, farmed Atlantic salmon have been found as far north as the west side of Vancouver Island, as well as the Skagit and Nooksack rivers.

Washington Department of Ecology Spokesman Larry Altose said that Cooke could face penalties for the incident, The Seattle Times reported.

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